In a lengthy flashback, Oscar Hopkins's great grandson (Geoffrey Rush) narrates the family history that led to his birth. On an Australian farm, Lucinda Leplastrier was tutored by her intelligent mothr, a woman who took part in the early feminist movement. Oscar's lonely boyhood in rural England was under the watchful eye of his preacher father. At Oxford to train as a minister, the adult Oscar (Ralph Fiennes) feels he doesn't fit in and develops a passion for gambling, giving his winnings away to the poor. Oscar and Lucinda (Cate Blanchett) meet aboard a ship; he's off to the outback to work as a missionary, and she's returning from London after buying equipment for her glass factory. As mutual misfits, they have an instant attraction and quickly grow close, developing a romantic relationship based on trust. However, the Rev. Dennis Hasset (Ciaran Hinds) and Lucinda are friends, sharing an interest in glass. Convinced they are in love, Oscar embarks on an unusual and difficult task, building a glass church for the reverend, an ambitious project to attempt in the remote wilderness.